Sometime soon, the Drug Enforcement Administration is expected to announce its response to the two most recent petitions asking it to reclassify marijuana. As I explain in my latest Forbes column, the imminence of that decision has given rise to unrealistic expectations:
Rumor has it that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) plans to legalize marijuana any day now. Rumor also has it that Barack Obama is secretly a foreign-born Muslim and that the CIA had a hand in the attack that brought down the World Trade Center. Unfortunately, that first claim is about as likely to be true as the other two.
It is true that the DEA has not responded yet to a pair of petitions asking it to reclassify marijuana, which since 1970 has sat in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the law's most restrictive category. Schedule I supposedly is reserved for drugs with "a high potential for abuse" and "no currently accepted medical use," drugs that cannot be used safely even under a doctor's supervision. It is doubtful that marijuana meets any of those criteria, let alone all three. But the DEA, which has wide discretion to interpret and apply the CSA criteria, has always insisted that marijuana must stay in Schedule I until its medical utility is proven by the sort of large, expensive, randomized clinical trials the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) demands before approving a new pharmaceutical.
While such studies have been conducted with marijuana's main active ingredient (which is how Marinol, a capsule containing synthetic THC, was approved by the FDA in 1985), and are under way with Sativex, an oral cannabis extract spray, they have not been conducted with the whole plant. The DEA's definition of "currently accepted medical use" creates something of a Catch-22, since marijuana's Schedule I status, together with the government's monopoly on the supply of cannabis for medical studies, makes conducting such research difficult. But there is little reason to think the DEA, having rejected three other rescheduling petitions, will change its mind now.
Even if the DEA did decide to remove marijuana from Schedule I, the result would not be, as the Santa Monica Observer reported on June 18, "legalizing medicinal cannabis in all 50 states with a doctor's prescription."